26 May 2007 What to Shoot?

Whether you’re a hobbyist or professional photographers selling photos in the microstock market, you may have wondered what would be the best subject for you to shoot. It’s a common issue on photography forums, and every ‘beginners guide’ to microstock that I’ve read has covered it. They all provide the same advice. Shoot what you see and what you’re passionate about.

It makes sense. If you’re passionate about something then you know it well. You probably have an idea about who’s going to buy photos of it, and what type of shots they’ll be looking for. You likely also have good ideas about which angles to shoot from and in what context.

My Experience

The first photos that we contributed to iStockphoto were a random selection. The first photo we sold was a photo of a breakfast meal that we’d ordered at a cafe while on holiday. The photo was technically poor, but when it had sold 10 times in the first two months we were delighted. But with a total revenue for our first ‘top seller’ sitting at $2, it was time to start thinking.

I did a bit of reading and found those beginners guides. Shoot what you see and what you’re passionate about. At the time I was working in technology and spending a lot of my time in corporate data centres. These are large environment-controlled rooms that house computer systems. Companies pay a lot of money for space in these rooms because they have the infrastructure and security. I did a search on iStockphoto for data centre and a handful of images came up. I had my first topic!

Data Centre InteriorWe set about taking shots of the data centres where I worked, with permission of the owners, of course. We uploaded and keyworded, and most were accepted. Almost instantly they started selling. They made our breakfast photo success small by comparison. We had success in a niche!

We continued shooting more data centres and finding different angles and different parts to shoot. We enjoyed continued success and domination of that niche until a better photographer with access to an impressive data centre came along and flooded the niche with great shots. We still sell a respectable amount of data centre photos across all the microstock sites where we’re registered. But it was a lesson in finding and exploiting a niche.


Taking the niche concept further you arrive at specialization.   A specialized portfolio has a lot of advantages:

  • You can get to know your subject matter intimately
  • You can build a reputation with repeat buyers in your chosen subject
  • You focus your efforts and resources

Many argue that specialization is a faster route to success for these and other reasons. One of the top microstock photographers, Yuri Arcurs, specializes in creating photos of people in corporate situations. It clearly works for him.

Here’s some specialized portfolios:

Is there a Market?

How do you tell if there’s a market for photos of what you see or what you’re passionate about? Research!

Check the top microstock websites to see how many images they have for the keywords for your subject. If they have a lot that have sold many times then it’s a mature market. You’ll have to work hard or find a sub-specialisation to break in. If there are not so many photos but what’s there has sold well, then it’s likely an under-explored market where your shots will do well.

The Current Microstock Market

Heres some links directly to what’s selling at some of the top microstock agencies:

  • Terri
    Posted at 13:31h, 16 September Reply

    great article!! confirms all the other stuff i have read but makes it very real and relevant! It so helpful to have all the links as well!!

  • Fdefoto
    Posted at 19:14h, 22 September Reply

    I’m starting in Microstock and after some rejected pictures i googled for some help like this post.
    Thanks for all comentaires and advices 🙂

  • Researching “What to shoot for stock?” | picNiche Blog
    Posted at 22:47h, 07 December Reply

    […] Microstock Diaries – What to Shoot? […]

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